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I'm wondering if there is much difference in the pronunciation of the words or intonation of them. Is it just the long vowel?

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  • おじいさん with the long //iː// sound means "grandfather".

  • おじさん with the short //i// sound means "uncle".

In modern Japanese, these are distinguished by vowel length and by pitch accent -- "grandfather" has a downstep after the second mora, so the ji is a higher pitch than the second i: おじいさん{LHLLL}, whereas "uncle" has no downstep: おじさん{LHHH}.

Looking at the derivations, the initial o- in "grandfather" is an honorific prefix, and the -san on the end is an honorific suffix. The root term is , from older jiji (still encountered occasionally, often meaning "old man"), from ancient didi.

Meanwhile, in "uncle", the -san on the end is an honorific suffix, but the o- on the front is part of the root term, oji. This is from older woji, from ancient wodi.

  • I can't figure out how to format for the pitch accent, with the red lines above or below the kana. If anyone could add that to this post, I'd be most grateful. – Eiríkr Útlendi Feb 5 at 19:25
  • Does that look alright? – BJCUAI Feb 5 at 19:32
  • @user27280: Tweaked and expanded. Thank you! – Eiríkr Útlendi Feb 5 at 19:41

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